Love Letters – The Black Tower

The Black Tower, by John Smith, film still.

I am keen on a lot of films by John Smith, but my favourite is ‘The Black Tower.’ When I think of this film I envisage the ‘black tower’ of the title silhouetted against a bright blue sky. Then the textures of a London suburb – brick walls, railings and the odd bit of greenery. Immediately I love this work on a visual, visceral level. All of the shots are beautifully composed and the colours – a slightly heightened version of reality – are gorgeous.

Then I love its structure, its conceit. It is neat and clever. The film depicts an empty urban landscape but we hear, on the soundtrack, a monologue voice-over that tells the story of a man who inhabits these streets. We see what he sees and what he sees is the black tower (an industrial structure – possibly a water tower – that looks part minimalist sculpture and part archetype house). At first it is innocuous. He just notices it in passing. Then he becomes consumed by it, obsessed that it is following him. Over a period of several months he sees it everywhere he goes and we follow him and his descent into madness.

The tower has been filmed from many different angles and locations and the way shots are cut together makes the tower appear as if it is moving. I enjoy imagining the filmmaker walking the streets, seeking out vantage points. I like the thought of him alighting on the tower as a motif and then constructing the work around this. The pacing of the film is perfect – starting slowly and then becoming fast and tense as the man becomes unsettled. As I write I can imagine the soundtrack of running feet and multiple, fast cutting shots of the tower at the film’s mid-point climax.

Each time I watch the film I notice something new; a word/image interplay that had eluded me before. Or I remember an element I’d forgotten. It’s a work that’s very simple in concept but complex and multi-layered in execution.

Love letters – Measures of Distance

Last week I had a conversation with a friend about the programming of an arts organisation whose work I am generally interested in – I find it enjoyable but, as I said to her, “I do not love it.” This prompted me to ask myself the question: “what works of art do I love?” and I started to make a list. If I manage to keep it up, I am planning to write a series of blog posts about the works over the coming weeks.

To start off with, I thought I’d post a link to piece of writing I wrote a few years ago about the artwork ‘Measures of Distance’by Mona Hatoum. It’s a little bit of an unresolved piece, slightly awkward, but I still like parts of it. I think of it as a kind of love letter to Hatoum’s work of art. It was written for the publication RITE, 2010, published by Open Dialogues and New Work Network.The design/layout is by Wood McGrath.

Most of the works I can think of that I love are artists’ films or videos. This could show that I’m working in the right way myself, making videos at the moment. Or it could just be that I have video on the brain!